Archive for December, 2016


Monday, December 19th, 2016

Bloggers must set a pace. Some can write daily, others weekly. I’m discovering my pace–heretofore best labeled as sporadic–to be fortnightly.

A fortnight represents a period of two weeks; it is derived from the combining of two Old English words–fourteen (feorwertyne) and night (niht). A typical description of the period of two weeks in England, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland, it has all but disappeared from widespread American usage.

The word, however, became incidentally crucial to the nurturing of my Christian faith in my late adolescence and early twenties.

I learned the word from reading Christianity Today when it was a crusading evangelical magazine begun in 1957 and published in Washington, DC. The banner and masthead of the journal of opinion and faith at that time read, “Christianity Today–Published Fortnightly.”

The journal’s pioneering editor was the progressive evangelical thinker Carl F. H. Henry. The magazine in that era sought to be a journal of Christian thought aimed at competing with the more liberal Christian Century and the even more culturally cutting-edge Christianity and Crisis.

Henry’s essays, which appeared in the journal fortnightly, challenged my adolescent faith that had been nurtured in Baptist dispensationalist fundamentalism, not in a harsh and argumentative manner of essays in the other religious journals of the time, but with a call to intellectualism and scholarship that was critical but convivial.

Henry’s approach was clear and honest, challenging both liberal extremes and fundamentalist militaristic attitudes. For the first time in my life, I began to see that neo-orthodox thinkers such as Rudolf Bultmann and Paul Tillich, as well as the theological and social revolutionaries Karl Barth and Reinhold Niebuhr, were not the “enemies” that fundamentalism made them out to be.

Henry became a leader and philosophical spokesperson for what at the time had been labeled “new evangelicalism.” Fortnightly, thanks to Henry’s essays in Christianity Today, I moved toward becoming one of that movement’s adherents.

(As a journalist, I have tried hard to clarify the distinction many of my colleagues were missing and continue to miss between “evangelical” and “fundamentalist.” Unfortunately, as the writer Jim Wallis has noted, contemporary right-wing fundamentalists have co-opted the term “evangelical,” and working journalists have been unwitting allies in that co-opting.)

I could go on describing my nascent intellectual awakening in faith, but for now, I merely want to give myself a pace for this almost random blogging I’m doing, and I want to give Henry credit for teaching me to exercise my brain and spirit fortnightly. You likely will see his name often mentioned in future posts.

A Rule of Life: “Is ye all ‘narder, m’luv?”

Thursday, December 1st, 2016




December 2016

The church season is now in Advent, but my reflection from earlier this year during the church season of Lent seems equally appropriate.

One learns that the monastic effort to follow a “rule” of life, as in The Rule of St. Benedict, is not a “rule” in the manner exercised by our American understanding of the English language. After all, our colonial ancestors waged a successful revolutionary war against the tyranny of the British “Ruler” and his exploitation of the colony.

In a more pedestrian sense, we all certainly should apply or attempt to apply the carpenter’s admonition to “measure twice, cut once.” In that instance, we welcome and praise the simple tool we call a ruler (although, any carpenter knows better the companion tool that is attached to a work belt is a “rule”).

Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary (1) lists seventeen separate definitions for this word, but the one the monastics typically apply is listed first: “a prescribed, suggested, or self-imposed guide for conduct or action.” I particularly like the phrase “self-imposed guide for conduct or action” to describe what any Lenten or Advent exercise seems to be encouraging.

German culture, known for its order and precision, often uses the expression “alles im Ordnung” meaning, everything is in order, or everything is as it should be. The agent who stamps a passport at a German port of entry uses the expression repeatedly and emphatically as he or she brings the ink stamp down on the page. A more pedestrian usage of the phrase is to express the English equivalent of “everything’s in its place,” or “everything’s OK.”

The immigrant subculture of native Newfoundlanders into which I was born and nurtured in New York, uses a common expression of this “self-imposed guide” in the words “all ‘narder.” It asks “Are you all in order?”

The mother or father of a family about to lead the children out of their home, be it for a visit to a relative for a cup of tea, a walk to church, a drive in the countryside, or a fishing trip, might ask in Newfie dialect, “Is we all ‘narder, m’luvs?”

The captain of a fishing schooner in Newfoundland, the profession of both my grandfathers, assuredly greeted every sailor who came aboard his ship to embark on the seasonal voyage for codfish with the question, “Is ye all ‘narder, me son?”

As I embarked on last year’s Lenten exercise encouraged by the members of the Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE) “Growing a Rule of Life(2), I saw it less an application of a regulation for spiritual growth and more a question of my self-imposed guide for my life in Christ: am I “all ‘narder”?


(1) “Rule.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. 2016.

(2) Society of St. John the Evangelist–Growing a Rule of Life.